PvP Systems: FFA vs Faction

Coppertopper previously asked my opinion on FFA PvP versus set faction PvP, and today seems like a good day to throw out my opinions on the topic and also see what everyone else thinks. Examples of FFA PvP include Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call – Darktide, Shadowbane, EVE Online, and DarkFall, among others. Examples of set faction PvP include Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Aion, and Warhammer Online, among others.

Let’s start with the strengths of each setup. In a set faction system, you are assigned to a side and hence immediately start the game with pre-defined enemies and friends. This means you can get right into the PvP action without having to solo or find a guild. WAR is the best example of this strength, as right at level one you can queue up for a scenario and play as part of a team. Balance is also generally easier to achieve in a set faction system since the developers know exactly which races/classes are going to be facing each other. Lore is easier to design as you have clearly defined enemies and allies, and the story can progress as the devs see fit.

A FFA PvP system on the other hand gives much of the control over to the players, from determining enemies and allies to how guilds choose to define themselves (mercs, RP, specific race/class/focus). Politics become a huge factor, as your enemies one day might be your allies the next, or vice versa. In games like EVE or DF territory control is important due to its relationship to valuable resources, and this opens up economic PvP. Finally the ‘bad apples’ can be placed on Kill on Sight (KoS) lists, giving the player community some additional control/tools.

I stated to Coppertopper that I prefer the FFA PvP setup, but really it comes down to how you design your game. For instance, I don’t think DAoC would have been a better game had it been FFA PvP from the ground up, while at the same time I think a game like WAR is hurt by its strict two-sided conflict. I also really enjoy the political aspect of a FFA system, but again this comes down to how involved you are with an MMO. I would say most casual players don’t keep up with politics, and so that entire side is a non-factor for them. If anything, a simplified “who do we fight” system is better/easier for them to jump in and get to some fighting. Fighting also tends to be more frequent in a set faction system, at least when comparing games like DF/EVE to DAoC/WAR, although the style of PvP is certainly not the only factor to consider when asking why.

MMO history has also shown the set faction games generally fare better than FFA PvP games in terms of popularity. I think a large part of that has to due with the more streamlined approach a set faction system allows, and also because a FFA system is more difficult to predict. A quick look at Shadowbane’s history will show that the FFA setup largely contributed to the games failure, as the winning side would be so dominant as to literally kill a server. On the other hand EVE and its one server has yet to see complete domination, despite the efforts of many, and while DF started with a few large alliances dominating, today on the NA server the world is split into many smaller alliances, each with its own political connections and history, and many ‘little guy’ clans are able to claim property and carve our a space for themselves.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Aion, Asheron's Call, Combat Systems, Dark Age of Camelot, Darkfall Online, EVE Online, MMO design, PvP, RvR, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to PvP Systems: FFA vs Faction

  1. sid67 says:

    Expect a more complete blog entry on this later, but one dynamic I am missing in Darkfall is the ability to compete against others at my same level.

    I’m not talking about faction warfare, but segregation by relative power. The best example of this being WAR which had the four tiers.

    Even the nature of WoW World PvP, with it’s zones based on level, mean that you are more likely to run across someone you can kill at (or around) your level.

    I’m not saying that such a thing would work in Darkfall, just pointing out that FFA as it’s implemented in these games currently pits the very advanced against the meek right from the get-go.

    A tiering system that encouraged lowbie-vs-lowbie, advanced-vs-advanced has some distinct advantages.

    • SynCaine says:

      Somewhat true. After all, in WoW an 80 can enter a lowbie zone and then short of another 80 coming, everyone is powerless to stop him. In DF an 80-ish character will beat a few lowbie players when he visits the starting areas, but he can’t take out 10 of them alone, and actual player skill factors in heavily as well.

      Just last night I was in the dwarf starter area working on my vit title quest, and killed more than one PK looking for easy targets and not expecting a developed character to be dressed in junk gear farming easy mobs.

      At the same time, I can go with my two friends who are new to the game and hit the Maharim starter area and feel confident that most of the people we fight are also new and on their level. As with the dwarf area however, we have also run across strong players/groups and gotten a tough fight or died.

      Basically it goes back to the overall difference; in a faction system (WAR) you can ONLY fight near-level opponents. In a FFA system you can fight anyone, and who you fight is largely dependent on what you do and where you go. Visiting Aradoth or Dag is sure to get you a fight with a top-notch player. Visiting the starter zones is likely to get you lowish opponents.

      • sid67 says:

        Interesting. My only quibble is that I would say relative power level is a separate type of segregation than faction.

        In my mind, FFA simply means player defined groups rather than forced association.

        You could, in theory, have a game with no factions which also separates players into groups by relative power.

      • sid67 says:

        On a related note, I think what I’m finding irritating is that all the people that are ‘my level’ in my area are Blue.

        So there are people I could kill, just not people I could kill without the consequence of losing alignment.

        I saw someone suggest in Racial last night that “NEW” should be split into another clan of “NEW TOO” players which were at WAR with each other. That struck me as a decent idea as it would give NEW players someone to regularly engage in fights that are of a similar level. Perhaps they could even fight for control of Hammerdale?

        • SynCaine says:

          I like the NEW TOO idea, I think it would be fun for them. But like I said before, if you want to fight other players near your level without attacking blues, head on over to the other races areas.

          You not being willing to fight other blue players of your own race is just proof of the system working though. AV does not want everyone to fight each other in those areas. At the same time, a new player heading out to PvP is very tough and unlikely to yield positive results, which is why people are encouraged to join a clan. Again, the system working :)

          Fighting against the system is very possible, but at the same time one should expect a more difficult road.

  2. Hatch says:

    good post

  3. Derrick says:

    I think the key to a successful FFA system lies in it’s having only a single – or very few – servers. Darkfall does this: Regional servers, and that’s about it. Eve just has the one.

    This works, because you cannot have one faction really dominate a server easily and destroy the game. In a multiserver setup, players can take the easy road out of dealing with a dominant faction, and simply transfer/start anew on a different server. When this can happen, it DOES happen, and it strengthens the dominant faction due to ever dwindling opposition. Dwindling server population due to emigration reduces the odds of the dominant faction fracturing quickly/effectively enough to halt the blood loss before server pop drops below critical mass. People like to play with their friends, after all.

    On a (largely) single-server set up, that’s not an option, so a given server’s population remains high. There’s nowhere to go, so when a given faction achieves dominance it must contain a large population of the server to hold that dominance. Dominance is cool for a little while, but gets boring quickly, and with a large group dominating the server internal tensions/dissent/power struggles break the faction apart faster, resetting the server power balance.

    Simple as that, IMHO. Want a FFAPvP game? Stay single (or regional, if need be to deal with latency) servers.

    • SynCaine says:

      Some great points, both about server mass needed to keep things interesting (DF’s NA/EU servers are able to hold far more users than the typical WoW/WAR server. And we all know EVE’s single server capacity), and about how in other games its much easier (for a wide variety of reasons) to jump ship when things get tough.

  4. Bhagpuss says:

    I’m not a big PvP player, but I long ago lost my initial aversion for fighting other players. I think all my PvP experience has been in faction-based set-ups – DAoC, WAR, WoW, a little bit on Sullon Zek when it started.

    Even after quite a lot of PvP experience, the idea of FFA PvP still scares me. I think it’s the knowledge that there’s no-one you can be sure of. In a faction system, especially a race-based one, it’s a bit like a team game where everyone’s wearing a uniform. FFA is more like walking around a dangerous part of town after dark. I think it’s pretty guessable which of those is going to appeal to more people.

    Then there’s the roleplaying part. I know it’s old-fashioned now, but I actually like to have the background of my character given to me. It’s like playing a part in a play, you expect some direction. If part of the background is that your character is a dwarf and dwarves have a racial hatred of trolls derived from centuries of conflict, it’s a lot easier psychologically to jump into a fight with any troll you see.

    Are there any FFA PVP-Lite MMOs? Darkfall is a bit too serious in a number of ways for a first experience of FFA PvP, I think.

  5. Jesse says:

    Why not have both? A system like DAoC in the “center” of the map, and FFA outside the boundaries of the factions and their central contested area.

  6. keystone says:

    I like Jesse’s idea! Just make the faction ties die at the end of the civilized area (middle of the map) and let the players form their own factions outside.

    Hrmm, some tweaking needed to avoid exploits, but it could work and would be an interesting feature bringing the two PvP types of players together.

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